Nat King Cole Centennial

Mar 18, 2019

Nat King Cole was born on March 17, 1919. For his centennial, I'm posting a couple of recordings by the great singer-pianist, and a rare photo of Nat with Dick LaPalm. LaPalm was an advance man and factotum for Nat between 1950 and '65, and then a tireless advocate for his legacy and a friend and counsel to the Cole family until his death in 2013. Nat and Dick are seen in the photo walking along Michigan Avenue in LaPalm's hometown of Chicago. He's a giveaway in profile, but even from behind, there can be no doubt that this is Mr. Cole.

Nat's innovative, supper club style of small combo jazz extended even to the blues. "That Ain't Right," which the King Cole Trio featuring Oscar Moore and Wesley Prince made for Decca in 1940, is a classic example of the earthy urbanity that became the taproot for several major artists like Charles Brown, who sang and played piano with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers (Johnny was Oscar Moore's brother), as well as Hazel Scott, Amos Milburn, Little Willie Littlefield, and early Ray Charles.

I've been taken with the Geo Gershwin-Gus Kahn song "Liza (All the Coulds'll Roll Away)" ever since I first heard Thelonious Monk's rendition on his 1964 album MONK. The first two notes, like Liza's two syllables, pulled me right in to the tune that was introduced by Ruby Keeler with Duke Ellington in 1929; Ruby's adoring husband Al Jolson was so moved by the prospect of her "smile at me" that he rose from his seat on opening night in a Boston theater to belt it out. Teddy Wilson made several solo recordings of "Liza" in the mid-'30s, and so did Ella and Tatum, Torme and Django, BG and Papa Jo Jones. But no one's quite captured and sustained the gliding motion of those clouds rolling away like Nat Cole